Students spend winter break in New Orleans with Habitat for Humanity
It is a group comprised of more than 500 volunteers, and its mission is to eradicate poverty housing and homelessness by creating suitable shelters.
And while most students returned home to relax and recuperate from the fall semester, 30 undergraduates and graduates from Syracuse University and the State University of New York College of Environmental Science and Forestry took part in the Habitat for Humanity program.
In an effort to provide aid to victims whose homes were left in ruins after Hurricane Katrina, the group embarked on a weeklong trip. The group’s trip during winter break accurately represents the organization’s mission, Habitat leaders said.
A number of the students ventured to New Orleans, a city hit hard by the gale force winds of Katrina. The group framed an entire house in five days in an attempt to rebuild what was destroyed from the storm in August 2005.
Brian Spendley, the chapter’s executive director, said he found it hard to believe how most of the nation turned a blind eye toward the destruction and unbelievable condition of the city.
‘New Orleans’ state is strikingly devastating,’ said Spendley, an SU senior. ‘Only 30 percent of the population has returned to live in the area in which we worked; the community is run out of a clinic – not a hospital with optimum equipment and supplies – and many of those who have moved back are living in poverty.’
The group was based at Camp Hope, a former middle school which is being rehabilitated.
The students stayed on the second floor because the first floor was completely flooded during the storm. It has yet to be repaired.
While some Habitat members visited New Orleans, others journeyed to Slidell, a city in Louisiana just 30 minutes outside the Big Easy. Sophomore Shannon McCool, one of the three trip leaders, said the experience in Slidell was extremely rewarding.
‘Habitat for Humanity is an interconnected network in which everyone’s working together toward a common goal,’ McCool said. ‘After meeting the families and seeing for how many years they’ve strived to live in such poor conditions and in such harrowing homes, the ability to personally give back to people who had lost so much really felt like an emotional gift.’
McCool’s fellow volunteers agreed with her when she said the trip ‘exceeded our expectations.’ The group said its contribution helped in the effort to unite a community and spark social change.
Spendley, executive director, said the current state of cities like New Orleans and Slidell is far from incorrigible. With effort and commitment, the chapter said it believes these cities and other areas destroyed by Hurricane Katrina can be restored.
‘It is fairly easy to get stuck in ‘the bubble’ that surrounds the SU campus,’ Spendley said. ‘It’s when the students make an effort to get off the hill and help their fellow community members that Habitat for Humanity grows and expands its efforts and possibilities.’
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